Physical Activity and Non-Communicable Diseases


By Jaehoon Jeong

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 8 of VARSITY News.


Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are those that one cannot get from other people. Included in
this category are the following: type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and various cancers. From this distinction, it offers little surprise to discover that NCDs comprise a major proportion of global
mortality (i.e. deaths). Even less surprising is that these diseases, despite typically causing ill-health
in adulthood, start developing in childhood. The bottom line is this: work is needed in empowering
people to reduce unhealthy lifestyle behaviours.


Systematic reviews of studies have identified three such behaviours (that is, risk factors for NCDs):
Reduced physical activity, unhealthy eating habits and tobacco consumption. These manifest as
simple habits that snowball and can have detrimental health effects. Perhaps you may have noticed that, lately, your visits to the gym have devolved into visits to the fridge. Perhaps you may have glanced over the reality that your very ears have grown conditioned to the chime of the Mr D. app. Meanwhile, the broccoli you chose to leave behind in the produce aisle hold a candlelit vigil for your arteries. That last video lecture was exhausting. Would you care for a smoke?


In a meta-analysis published in 2015, it was shown that younger adults, chiefly part of the student
demographic, reported an especially high prevalence of physical inactivity. Compounded by the
restrictions of the lockdown, currently approaching level 2, reduced physical activity remains a significant health issue. Related studies have highlighted the preventative effects of regular exercise on metabolic syndrome, which refers to a presentation of three or more out of five medical conditions – namely: high blood pressure, high blood sugar and obesity (measured around one’s waist). In turn, metabolic syndrome is associated with type 2 diabetes and heart disease.


The question then becomes: how much should one exercise exactly? For adults between the ages of 18 and 64, current guidelines, as outlined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), recommend a minimum average of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. Alternatively, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or a combination of both, is applicable. These standards are also supported by the US-based Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) and the American College of Sport Medicine. Additionally, both WHO and
Mayo Clinic institutions recommend engaging in strength training for major muscle groups at least
twice per week.


These recommendations may be better understood in terms of everyday activities. It is important
that exercise intensity be gauged in consideration of individual physical fitness level. Mayo Clinic
states that this may be done with observation or monitoring heart rate. In moderate-intensity physical activity, one may observe one’s breathing quicken, without feeling out of breath, able to
speak, but unable to sing. One may also begin to sweat, but only after several minutes of prolonged activity. In vigorous-intensity physical activity, one may find their breathing is deep, rapid and loud. One may be unable to say more than a few words without catching one’s breath and begin to sweat shortly after commencing activity. In finding one’s optimum level of exercise intensity, one should beware of overexertion, opting for sufficiently spaced and graded increments.


A more quantitative measurement of exercise intensity involves monitoring your heart rate. The
following link will redirect you to an excel spreadsheet to help you get started.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *